School district must work to cut budget roughly $4 million

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 3, 2014 

Beaufort County schools will begin cutting roughly $4 million from next year's budget during a special meeting Thursday at Hilton Head Island High School.

The cuts are necessary after County Council's finance committee said Monday it wanted to avoid a large tax increase.

The special meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m., comes as the board faces a June 9 deadline for presenting an updated spending plan to council.

The district's budget, certified by the school board May 22, asked council for a little more than $118 million in tax revenue, which would require a tax increase of roughly 7 mills.

However, the committee has said it wants to see a budget with tax revenue set at $114.8 million -- the amount the school district was supposed to receive this year before faulty projections led to a more than $4 million shortfall.

Council has said it will consider the roughly 4-mill increase it would take to achieve the lower budget, but does not want additional increases.

Superintendent Jeff Moss will make cut recommendations to the school board Thursday .

"Whatever recommendations are made to satisfy council's motion will have an adverse effect in the classroom," Moss said. "You can't separate out one area from the other. All of the services run together, and all support each other, and all are as important as the other."

Moss could not say where those cuts might be made. The district has several million dollars worth of state mandates, enrollment increases, and required pay and insurance increases that must be funded.

About $2 million of the proposed $10 million increase over last year's budget comes from new and expanding programs or initiatives.

Council does not appear to be considering a one-time tax increase to replenish the district's fund balance to make up the shortfall, said chief operational services officer Phyllis White.

That balance is used to cover school expenses over the summer and also affects the district's bond rating and interest rates, Moss said.

While some council members, including as Stu Rodman and Jerry Stewart, said they want a budget that minimizes both expenditures and tax increases, others, such as Laura Von Harten, said at Monday's meeting the lower budget does not provide enough money.

After presenting an updated budget to council June 9, the council and district will finalize the budget later this month.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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